Local News

Community's Need For New Firetruck Sparks Debate Over Homeland Security Funds

Posted December 23, 2003

— North Carolina has received $50 million for homeland security. While improvements at places such as airports and nuclear plants are obvious, some of the items purchased with the grant money are not as clear.

Eighty percent of the money goes to local emergency responders. But some people believe states should look at the big picture first.

Here in North Carolina, counties get to decide how to spend the federal funds. They are allowed to spend it on certain police and fire equipment and training. However, some people believe that when it comes to homeland security, there are higher priorities.

The Bethany Rural Fire Department still uses its oldest truck. Even its newest truck is 27 years old. That is why the volunteer firefighters in Bethany cannot wait to get a new truck that is state of the art.

"The truck will enable us to repond anywhere within the county in a matter of minutes with ample amount of firefighters to assist with handling any situation," Bethany Fire Chief Jimmy Batten said.

The truck will be purchased with $178,000 in homeland security funds. Critics wonder if that money could be better spent.

"We need to spend those funds carefully at the highest-priority, highest area of cost-benefit return before we go down the list to firetrucks in small communities," said John Hood, of the John Locke Foundation.

Hood's conservative foundation wants to make sure airports, seaports and major population centers are taken care of first.

Rep. Bob Etheridge, who delivered Christmas gifts to the needy Tuesday, helped secure the grant for the truck. He agreed with Hood on the need for priorities but said Bethany's proximity to the Selma oil terminals could make it vulnerable to terrorism.

"If something happens, they're going to be the first people we call," Etheridge said. "I've said for years, you're not going to call Washington. You're going to call your local police department and fire department, and they need the tools to respond."

Bethany firefighters said that once they get their truck, they will have the tool they need.

North Carolina is slated to get another $54.5 million for local first responders next year. Sen. John Edwards this week proposed that the state get five times that amount.

There is legislation pending in the House that would make sure any federal money that comes here is prioritized.

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